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Kegerators and lactation suites go mainstream in Portland

On Wednesday, May 21, at a panel on employers’ best practices, three prominent Portland business leaders fessed up about how they attract, retain and get the most out of, good employees.

Pat Welch, cofounder of recruitment firm Boly:Welch, said it was important to make work a place you want to be. “I like pretty,” she said unapologetically during the panel organized by the Portland Business Alliance.

So Boly:Welch’s Sixth Avenue office has a decent art collection and it has natural light. There’s a room where children can hang out on snow days or after school when their parents haven’t got child care, in addtion to a room where working mothers can breast feed. Even Welch’s 87-year-old mom hangs out there in the summer. It’s part of “accommodating people’s different life issues,” said Welch. The upside is the staff of 38 is more productive. “95 percent of the time we don’t eat lunch out. People like to eat in the office, they work through lunch.”

Similarly, Jim Kilpatrick, president of Fortis Construction, said his company does not have a traditional corner office layout or mentality. “We work at tables, I’m out there in the middle with my staff.”

It’s part of the idea that staff (mostly engineers and project managers) should be flexible and adaptable problem solvers, ready to pitch in. “There’s not one person who brings in sales, we all do,” he says.

There’s a ping pong table and a chilled beer keg to encourage relaxation, and there are fitness challenges run by the staff rather than imposed.

Steve Seguin (pronounced Sayer), executive director at Sussman Shank LLP, said the law firm wasn’t quite ready for those kinds of conspicuous perks, but that it does try to celebrate successes and encourage community involvement.

“We have Hood2Coast and Reach the Beach teams and we do work with Loaves and Fishes,” he said. “But having a bond of trust with your employees is very important. Being on Business Oregon’s 100 Best Places to Work list really helps with recruitment.”

“We’re the opposite of that ‘path to the corner office’ mentality,’” said Kilpatrick. “A title doesn’t mean squat. It’s what you do that counts.”

Fortis has 130 people and has hired 30 in the last 12 months. Kilpatrick said he spends a third to a half of his time on talent acquisition. “My goal is not for you to say you work for a great company, I want your spouse to say you work for a great company.”

Pat Welch said that at 63 she has seen a lot of changes. “I used to work with children of the Depression, they wouldn’t leave a job if their life depended on it. I had secretaries whose bosses used to shout and throw erasers at them, but they wouldn’t leave. Now Millennials flip jobs like they flip channels.”

This has fueled title envy.

All three speakers considered the right fit to be essential in hiring good employees. “We ask them to describe their dream position so we know where to place them,” said Welch the recruiter.

Seguin of Sussman Shank said his firm brings prospective employees back three to six times as part of hiring. “We look for a diversity of ideas and viewpoints.”

Kilpatrick said applicants come into the office for two thirds of a day, two or three times meeting eight or nine people they would be working with. “We don’t spend much time talking about their skills, and we don’t check references.” But he also trusts his “Blink” instinct. “I can tell in the first five minutes if they’ll be a good fit.”

His team asks somewhat personal questions, like describe an object at home you absolutely love.

“If they’re not passionate about something, that’s not good.”

The panel was organized by the Portland Business Alliance.